Friday, November 27, 2015

Tai Chi Tip: Take a Moment - Part 2

(Continued from previous post)...Even bending the knees and stepping out to the side is not as simple as it seems.  As you bend your knees, you can see if the movement disrupts the preparations you have just made.  If it does, return to your starting position, readjust, then don't think of bending the knees, think of sinking.  Continue to listen to your body as you sink to make sure that your alignment stays true and your knees do not push out past your toes.  When you finish sinking, shift your weight to one foot (typically the right foot) and stay aware of your root and alignment.  If you feel unstable, shift the weight back to both feet and try this shift as many times as is necessary to feel that your root and alignment are maintaining your balance as you shift.  Then, eventually, take it to another level.  When you shift to one foot, do you simply feel balanced, or do you feel that if someone pushed against you they would have a difficult time pushing you over?  Focus on sinking into your root so much with this shift, that even though you have put all of your weight on one leg, you feel solid enough on that leg, that when you imagine someone pushing against you, you feel confident that you would remain solid.  

As you maintain the root in one leg, pick up the other foot (usually the left foot) and slowly....sloooooooowwwwwwly move it out to its new position.  This is not a simple step out, although it bears a striking resemblance to one.  This step prepares you for how you will be moving through the whole form.  Which is, to always maintain a solid root in one leg while stepping with the other.  No weight shifts and no root shifts until the foot in motion has touched the ground.  Then, and only then, can you begin to shift your root and your weight to that foot.  

The same amount of care should be placed in closing the form.  When you go through "Close Taiji" as you are lowering your hands and straightening your legs you should begin to do an inventory.  Is your alignment still correct?  Is your root still strong?  Is your mind still focused?  Is your weight still sunk into your base?  These should all be maintained throughout practice and if you find that this check point reveals any missing components, it allows you to recognize what was lost during your training.  Sometimes, while one practices, she/he will begin to focus so much on one thing, relaxing for example, that he/she will forget to maintain another thing, good structure for instance.  As I mentioned in a previous tip, it is a good idea to pick one thing to focus on, then add other points of focus as it becomes easier to do so.  The really important part is to make sure that you begin the form and end the form with the same number of Tai Chi principles intact.  In other words, if you begin the form focusing only on alignment, when you do your mental inventory at the beginning of the "Close Taiji" movement, you should find that you are still maintaining good alignment.  Likewise, if you begin with good alignment, relaxation, and rooting, you should still have each of these principles in your inventory at the end of the form.  This mental checklist helps you locate weak points in your form training.  That way, the next time you practice, you can keep an eye out for what exactly caused you to lose one of your key Tai Chi components.  

When you have finished checking yourself for any lost Tai Chi fundamentals, and are ready to bring your feet back together, go through the same rooting and alignment practice that you did at the beginning of the form.  If you find that you can finish strong with the same strength of root, the same alignment and balance, then it shows a proficiency and fitness in those skills, which allows you to carry them through the whole form and finish without them being diminished.  But if you find that you feel fatigued, your root does not feel as strong, your alignment feels shaky, and your balance is unsure, it indicates that your body and mind are still not used to the form and are still developing their Tai Chi fitness.  It is not a bad thing, it is just an indicator that there is work to be done and it gives you a way to measure your progress.  As time passes, and as you continue to train consistently, you will gradually see improvement at this stage of the form.  

After your feet are together and you begin to straighten your legs and return to your starting position, allow yourself to release your practice time and return to the "real world."  Allow as much of that practice session to stay with you throughout the rest of the day as feels natural, but do not try to force any of the feelings to stay with you.  Gradually, more and more will stay with you, but let it happen naturally.  Don't forget the lessons that you learned during your training, but also do not obsess over them.

Both of these sequences at the beginning and end of the form, though they may seem very simple, are actually very involved (as you can see) and they are crucial for preparing you to practice your form correctly, allowing you to gauge your ability to carry Tai Chi principles through the whole form, and allowing you to truly close the form.  These are where you change from "every day mode" into "Tai Chi mode" and back again.  You will find that the more you practice, the easier this transition will be.  Eventually, you will start to realize that there is less of a transition because the Tai Chi principles that you practice in the form are becoming a part of how you function in everyday life, but it all begins with slowing down and taking a moment to appreciate these seemingly insignificant little portions of your daily practice.

To Your Health,
Shifu Andrew Plitt

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